Could the Leafs really end up with Laine ahead of Matthews?

In the days leading up to the draft lottery that saw the Leafs walk away with the top pick come June, there was additional talk about the number one selection and just how much of a lock Auston Matthews is to go there. 

We know that since the World Junior tournament in December there’s been the emergence of Patrik Laine as somewhat of a contender to Matthews, but if you’ve been following the draft year-to-year, you probably realize networks and scouting services do this sort of thing to drum up some controversy and create a buzz. Often the picks are never actually that close.

For these reasons, it’s probably smart to take Laine’s apparent rise with a grain of salt. Matthews is, and always has been the guy in about 99% of rankings to this point.

But this following little tidbit from Bob McKenzie over the weekend is certainly worth noting, and as you’ll see below, it raises some questions about where the Leafs are at right now in their evaluations, and where they could be headed.

I didn’t really care about this news much when I assumed the Leafs would be picking fourth, but now that I want to get a Matthews jersey on pre-order, this whole Laine thing is going to creep into my brain.

Then this, from Frank Seravalli of TSN, didn’t really help:

It’s believed a consensus was reached on an early draft list, but that doesn’t mean it was unanimous. Maple Leafs director of European scouting Ari Vuori may have made a strong case for Toronto to select Finnish sniper Patrik Laine ahead of Matthews… Vuori, 53, came over to the Maple Leafs last year from the Detroit Red Wings with Mike Babcock. He was instrumental in drafting Anze Kopitar in Los Angeles along with Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar and Teemu Pulkkinen, among others, in Detroit. Since Matthews played in Switzerland this season, European scouts like Vuori have been able to make a better comparison to Laine than any normal year with him in their backyard.

Now this is a little more serious. 

Make no mistake, in the rest of the article Seravalli is clear that most signs seem to point to the Leafs taking Matthews. But it does imply one voice in the room could be pushing for the big Finn. 

Most of the fanbase would be floored if talks of the Leafs leaning toward Laine started to pick up, and obviously we can’t stress enough that it’s highly, highly doubt that will be the case. But I’ve seen 12 Angry Men, so this at least puts the tiniest question mark in the back of my mind about how this draft pans out. I guess it can never be too easy. 

  • Jeremy Ian

    Yeah, I am with the this-is-media-noise crowd. Go with Matthews. Then start bundling up picks and prospects to upgrade the Pitt 1st to get a defenseman. That, I think, is the challenge now.

  • silentbob

    There’s two chances the Leafs take Laine over Matthews, Bob Hope and no hope!
    Come on guys we need a bit more than this it’s a poor effort at starting debate.

  • silentbob

    The comparisons that legitimately worry me are those that compare Laine to Ovechkin.

    I wouldn’t want to pass by an Ovechkin but it’s still really hard to imagine they say no to Matthews.

    • Mitch92

      The comparisons to Lemeaux are even more concerning in my eyes and there are alot of them out there. And if the leafs are truely not changing free agency plans, and want and succeed in getting stamkos, then there is no longer a need at center and they can truely just draft the biggest impact player available regardless of position. Hardly any teams have that luxury picking first overall which is why the center always has a higher value. But like u say if there leafs get stamkos they can just take whoever is the best player, take position out of it and it’s a much closer debate.

      I’ve never been more excited to watch world championships. It’s a last chance that Laine could really put the pressure on the leafs to draft him. If he looks that much better then Matthews in the same tournament it’s going to be a very real debate

  • Capt.Jay

    With Mariner and Nylander being play makers wouldn’t it be a good idea to have a shooter? I love Mathews but the thought of a Finnish flash is promising

  • CMpuck

    You don’t really have a shot at being a real team without having a 1C, we got one.

    No ill will towards these articles, I’ll read every scenario just for the fun of it.

  • Jeremy Ian

    It’s nice knowing that, for once, if the Leafs do go a little off the board with a draft pick it’s because they have done their homework. I am a fan of whoever this group decides is best. I have a pretty good feeling it won’t be wrong.

  • FlareKnight

    Just take Matthews and work with that. No point trying to get too clever with the first overall pick here. Laine is an elite talent, he wouldn’t be ranked 2nd if he wasn’t. But…I’m still going with Matthews there. That guy has the exact combination of skill, skating, size, and drive that we need. A slam-dunk #1 center that we haven’t had since Sundin.

    While sure I’d have been fine running with Nylander there long term, when you get that kind of option you take it.

    Think it is just media noise. The Leafs have a ton of scouts and have seen these two play a ton. Both at the world juniors, in their respective leagues, and at the upcoming world championships. The media just needs something to talk about with the season having been so quiet in a sense. Create some draft debates and you’ll get people reading.

    Just makes too much sense to go with Matthews here. Personality just sounds like the exact thing Babcock would love to have in his top center. Just take the center and be happy with that.

  • TGT23

    If Matthews were a winger, is he the #1 pick?

    Probably not. Laine probably goes #1. But, Matthews is a C, the best C in the draft, and a potential star player. They have to take him.

    Fact is, they have wingers who can score, already.

    Marner, JVR, Brown, Leipsic, Nylander can be shifted if they want to run with Matthews-Kadri-Gauthier-Bozak down the middle. Or, if Stamkos comes at a reasonable ptice. Timashov, Kapanen, Soshnikov… They have skilled wingers.

    They need the #1 C, now. If there was a can’t-miss D prospect, this would be a real conversation. I don’t think it is right now.

      • TGT23

        No. His position DOES matter. If Matthews is a winger, Laine probably goes #1. Matthews is the #1 pick because he’s a big, skilled Centre. Key word, Centre.

        If he was just a big, skilled winger Laine would be the more dynamic talent and the consensus #1. He still is, to many, the consensus #1 pick. The more likely to be a franchise talent.

        Matthews only wins because C is a more valuable position.

        • silentbob

          Kovalchuk, Ovechkin, Kane, van Riemsdyk, Hall, Yakupov – all wingers taken 1st or 2nd overall, before centers who were in the conversation as possible 1st overall picks as well. If what you’re saying is true, Malkin, Seguin, Turris, Spezza etc… all would have been taken before them.

  • Harte of a Lion

    Let’s all watch this play out next week at the World’s. If Laine as a 17 year old dominates the tournament unlike any kid in history, you might be forced to re-evaluate.

    I love Matthews and believe a team needs a big dominant #1 centre but Laine seems to have another gear in his arsenal when the games are on the line. Someone to pick up his team and carry it on his shoulders when it’s game 7 and the Stanley Cup is on the line.

    That’s a player you choose over a centre.

    With the OHL playoffs, Marner & Timashov, The Marlies and the Worlds beginning soon, it’s fun being a Leafs fan right now.

    My only concern with Laine is I have watched as many clips of his games as I can find and I find that when the puck is on his stick he is almost impossible to check but when he is not directly involved in the play he appears almost lazy in his positioning and efforts. I think that is his age and he can be taught zone responsibility.

  • SEER

    We have 12 picks…

    If Lou can get a’dealin’.., we could actually end up with both of them.. LOL! : )

    (stats in video descriptions)

    Wicked: Auston Matthews Montage – 2014 & 2015 Highlights – 2016 NHL Draft Prospect



    Knockin’ On The Draft Door: Patrik Laine 2014 & 2015 Highlights – 2016 NHL Draft Prospect


  • FlareKnight

    The worlds will be interesting to watch. Although the key difference is the teams they are on. Matthews will be basically on the only good line for Team USA while Finland should have a group good enough to challenge for the whole thing. On that note, I’m amazed by how American players just don’t give a damn about playing for their country. No one is going outside of Matthews who can use this chance. It will be up to Matthews just to drag that team into the quarter finals.

    Honestly, though I don’t see a situation where Laine is the pick there. When skills are relatively even then give the nod to the need. Laine would have to literally outclass Matthews beyond debate to be the guy there.

    Which is quite frankly asking a ridiculous thing from Laine here. A guy being at the top of the lists for a year gives time to poke holes in a guy’s game. But, this is still a franchise player here and very much deserving where he’s been sitting all year.

    In the end it’s a debate between a very complete center and a game-breaking winger. I’ll give the nod to the center.

  • Gary Empey

    It would be foolish to ignore Laine’s performance in the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship this year.

    Then being named most valuable player in the SM-liiga men’s league playoffs.

    This is not simply media hype.

    I for one will be watching him and Matthews in the upcoming IIHF World Championship in Russia. I will make up my mind after those games.

    If Stamkos signs and Matthews and Laine are considered equal it will be a hard decision to choose. Laine just may be the better fit.

    The fact the both Matthews and Laine could end up being the best players on their respective teams in the upcoming IIHF World Championship in Russia, is astounding, when you consider all the NHL players who will be in the tourney.

  • Mitch92

    I suppose anything is possible. Lou said that they are going to take the player that they believe is the best player. Shanny said they would discuss it and take the best player. If Matthews tweaks his back at the Worlds and Laine dominates for Finland even without Puljujärvi, the tide will sway drastically and dramatically. Anything is possible and yes, Matthews previous back trouble worries me. The funny thing is that I prefer Puljujärvi over both Matthews and Laine!

  • magesticRAGE

    I think that Winnipeg would have (still will) picked Laine. They need to replace the loss of Ladd, and he was a shoot first player. They already have center depth.